A leading academic and biology researcher is speaking out in his own defense after finding himself in the midst of the heated battle over the Las Crucitas gold mine in northern Costa Rica.
Olivier Chassot, research director at the TropicalScienceCenter, defended his work and reiterated concerns that Las Crucitas – an open pit gold mine that would process ore in vats of cyanide – would put the area ecosystem, as well as the critically endangered great green macaw, at risk.
“Over the past two months, the (mining) company has carried out a campaign of paid ads against me personally,” Chassot told The Tico Times. “We have always provided exact scientific information, and we are the victims of a campaign financed by the mining company to damage our image.”
The Las Crucitas mine – which has yet to begin construction – has come under fire from environmentalists, academics, researchers and others.
Chassot and the TropicalScienceCenter stated that the mine could threaten recovery of the macaw and damage the local ecosystem.
The mine site is three kilometers from the San Juan River, the natural border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The river is Nicaraguan territory and flows through protected areas and internationally recognized wetlands.
Representatives of the firm behind the project, Industrias Infinito, the Costa Rican subsidiary of the Canadian mining firm Infinito Gold (formerly Vannessa Ventures), say the mine is safe and any environmental impacts are outweighed by the millions of dollars it is pouring into infrastructure projects, job training and tax coffers.
President Oscar Arias has been a steady ally of the project. His office green-lighted the project after it had been held up for years in the courts.
Arias and Environment Minister Roberto Dobles are also the subject of a criminal investigation by the nation’s Chief Prosecutor Francisco Dall’Anese after they signed a decree declaring the Las Crucitas mine of “public interest and national convenience.”
The decree, issued Oct 17 and suspended three days later by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV), exempted the project from certain environmental laws, and authorized the company to clear-cut nearly two square kilometers of forest. The decree explicitly authorized Industrias Infinito to cut down endangered mountain almond trees, the principal food source and habitat for the great green macaw.
Sala IV had ruled just one month earlier to prohibit all logging of the mountain almond until both it and the bird are no longer endangered.
As opposition to the mine increased, Industrias Infinito launched an ad campaign, taking out full-page advertisements in major daily newspapers to highlight support from residents in surrounding communities and play down environmental concerns.
In one ad, Industrias Infinito calls out Chassot for supposedly giving contradictory information about the great green macaw.
The ad pictures maps of the region from a report by two government environmental agencies that surveyed the nesting areas of the great green macaw. According to the ad, the Las Cricitas site falls outside these areas.
“One year later, the biologist Oliver Chassot, of the Great Green Macaw Project, published his own conclusions, which coincide with (the previous study), and his map from the year 2003 had already excluded the Crucitas area as a nesting site,” the ad read.
“Curiously, on Oct 27, 2008, Oliver Chassot told (local TV news station) Telenoticas: ‘In trips we’ve made to the area, since the year 1996-1998, we have observed numerous great green macaws in the area of Crucitas,’” it continued.
Below, alongside a picture of Chassot taken from the evening news, the ad asks, “So, señor Chassot … what is the truth?”
The truth, Chassot says, is that while the macaw does not nest in the Crucitas area, it does migrate through there.
“The macaw can be nesting far away, but travels as far as 35 kilometers from its nest, traveling to the Las Crucitas area,” he says. Chassot is considered to be one of the two leading researchers of the great green macaw in Costa Rica, having co-authored the most recent study of the bird, published in 2002, after eight years of research.
“Today, our great green macaw population is in a vers, an association of the country’s top bird researchers.
Julio Sánchez, founder of the union, said the macaw migrates across the humid Caribbean lowlands, following the maturation of the fruit of the yellow almond and other trees. Las Crucitas is right in the middle of their range.
Great green macaw numbers have increased slightly, by an estimated 15 pairs in 15 years, according to MINAET.